Word of the Day Tapuz: The Word the People Insisted on Having for Orange

How the Hebrew word for orange arose from an inconveniently long biblical phrase for something completely different.

Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad
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Elon Gilad
Elon Gilad

The Hebrew word for the orange is ta-PUZ. But this is a quite recent invention. How did this word come to be?

It seems that oranges first made their way from the East to the Land of Israel in the time of the Talmud, where there are references to a sweet etrog (used together with honey as a remedy for snakebite) and a round etrog – which is categorically not to be used in place of a regular etrog on Sukkoth.

Hebrew texts are mute on the subject of oranges for millennia after that, and when the fruit is mentioned in ancient manuscripts, foreign words are employed.

This Hebraic disdain to mention the orange ended in 1827 when Shimshon Bloch published a sort of geography book titled Shviley Olam ("Routes around the world"), in which he uses the phrase tapuach zahav (golden apple) to refer to the tangy sweet fruit. Where did he get that from?

Bloch took the phrase tapuach zahav from the Book of Proverbs: A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. (25:11)

Now, those apples in this simile weren't oranges – they were literally apples made of gold. But after Bloch published his book, the phrase he coined was picked up by other writers and became the name of the fruit known as orange.

And that became what the nascent Hebrew speaking community called oranges - tapuach zahav - when Jews started growing citrus in Palestine in the late 19th century, which at the time was quite the boom industry.

But "tapuach zahav" is quite long and out of concern for space, writers and editors began truncating the phrase into an acronym - tapuz. In 1932, the linguist Shlomo Avinery suggested that the acronym simply be accepted as the definitive word for orange. But to this day, some older and more pedantic Israelis refer to it as tapuach zahav, scorning tapuz as a modern affectation.

(The video shows the Shalom Hanoch hit song "Sof Onat Hatapuzim" - "The end of orange season").

Tapuz, the fruit formerly known as "tapuach zahav".Credit: Haaretz

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